State’s Internet access goal may fall short
By Steve Zind
Vermont Public Radio | May 04,2013
“We have promised to have high-speed Internet access to every last mile by the end of 2013,” declared Gov. Peter Shumlin at a December news conference.
Today, state officials are still promising that by the end of the year, all Vermonters will have access to broadband Internet.
As broadband has become more widely available, the state has continued to focus on those places with no high-speed Internet in order to reach its goal.
The most isolated customers are the biggest challenge, and not everyone is on the same deadline as the state.
But achieving that target relies on building the network to carry the broadband signal.
The state has relied on its own grants, federal grants and loans, and private capital from phone and cable companies to build out the network.
In many cases, the state targets its money to companies that will extend broadband to those isolated addresses that have no high-speed Internet now and might never have it without grant money.
The grants are aimed at getting the job done by the end of this year. That’s the state’s timeline. But it’s not everyone’s timeline.
In March, the Vermont Telecommunications Authority terminated two broadband grants awarded to Springfield-based VTel when the parties couldn’t agree on terms of a contract, including a completion date.
Some of the grant money was intended to provide broadband by year’s end to 365 unserved addresses.
When the grants were terminated, VTel officials announced they would serve those locations anyway, even without state money.
But in a conference call with the telecommunications authority board Friday, the company made it clear it won’t do so before the end of the year.
When pressed by the telecommunications authority board to agree to a completion date, VTel’s Diane Guite said the company was not going to make any commitment without the grant money.
“We have no reason to contractually commit to do anything unless there’s funding attached. Doing a written commitment where it’s just us promising you something isn’t something that a business would agree to,” Guite told board members.
Guite said service would likely not be provided to all of the 365 addresses until sometime next year.
This leaves the state in the position of missing its deadline, or finding another way to reach those unserved customers.
The state hasn’t yet decided what to do.
All along, officials have said there might be a handful of people without broadband by the end of the year, but a higher number would represent a failure.
With less than eight months left, Kiersten Bourgeois, who heads the state’s broadband effort, says she’s still confident the goal will be met.